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Townsville flood crisis brings neighbours together as family takes in 60 stranded people

By Sharnie Kim, Wednesday February 6, 2019 - 08:30 EDT
ABC licensed image
Some of the children taking refuge at the Populin home. - ABC licensed

A family hailed as "true heroes" has taken more than 60 flood-stricken people and their pets into their two-storey home as they waited to be rescued from rising floodwaters in Townsville in north Queensland.

A stream of people started heading to Alicia Populin's two-storey house in Idalia as the neighbourhood was getting inundated on Sunday night.

"We had dogs, we had cats, I think a guinea pig — I think we ended up with about 16 families here from our neighbourhood," Ms Populin said.

"They had called SES but there were just too many to evacuate at one time so they started walking in."

'I've got another family — is that OK?'



Ms Populin said the water was knee-deep when neighbours, including a two-week-old baby, started turning up to seek refuge.

"We've got a lake behind us that by midnight looked like an ocean — I don't think anyone expected it to get to where it did," she said.

"Because we had generators … I think people just realised, 'OK, they've got light' and headed towards the light.

"We had a neighbour who had some sort of boat, tinny, and he was going out just around the street — if he could see anyone he would pick them up and bring them in.

"Every time he'd say, 'I've got another family — is that OK?' and I said: 'Of course, bring them in'."

Ms Populin said it was a tense and nervous night for many, but everyone tried their best to "ride it out".



Being someone who did not usually have pets inside the house, Ms Populin said she looked around at the scene before her at one point and had to laugh.

"It was nice to have people all in the same boat in the one house," Ms Populin said.

"I don't think the kids knew what was going on — they were all in the theatre room playing Nintendo and watching movies."



A 'crazy adventure'

Neighbour Pat Lucero used a kayak to get five family members, his dog and guinea pig to the safety of the Populins' home.

He said it was a "crazy adventure" for his aunt and cousin from Sydney, who were visiting Townsville for the first time.

He said he was extremely grateful to the Populins, who he described as "true heroes".

"No other words to explain their hard effort and work by providing shelter, food, kindness and support," Mr Lucero said.



'Too busy caring for others' to prepare to evacuate

Alicia Populin's sister, Clara McCarthy, said she never ceased to be amazed by her sister's selflessness.

"When I walked into her home that evening, [Alicia] was in the kitchen making sandwiches and platters, offering people teas and coffees, and she was trying to make everyone as comfortable as she could," she said.

"She was making beds and mattresses and handing out pillows.

"When it was time to evacuate, she had five minutes to throw some items in a bag for her children and herself and she didn't have any time to lift any of her possessions off the ground because she was too busy caring for others."



'We'll be back on our feet in no time'

After several hours, the Army arrived in boats and took all the occupants to the Lavarack Barracks for the night.



Ms Populin has since been able to return to check on her home, which was spared from flooding, but said many of her neighbours' homes were devastated.

"Until you're actually here and you see the people and you see the houses that have been damaged and even the smell, it got to me," Ms Populin said.

"As soon as I got down the street there were tears but there were smiles … we'll be back on our feet in no time."

She said she was glad to have been able to help during the disaster and said there were many others doing good in the community.

"Anyone in my situation would have let anyone into their house," Ms Populin said.

"People are getting tired and probably getting depressed now, so it is nice to hear stories of everyone coming together and helping others."


- ABC

© ABC 2019

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